Later Medieval Philosophy III: The Condemnation of 1277,  Scotus, and Ockham

The Condemnation of 1277

Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier

I. The problem...all these Aristotelian ideas (and some New Age nonsense) inconsistent with faith and taught as if they're just the truth.

A. Excommunicated if you taught them or even listened to them without reporting it.

B. Kind of weird jumble. Rush job.

C. Some of Aquinas' ideas are in here...he's canonized in 1325 and the Bishop of Paris revokes the condemnation of his ideas.

II. Examples: What do they mean?  Where do they come from?   What's bad about them?

A. Aristotle and his Islamic followers: 13, 22, 33, 85, 117.

B. Aquinas on Angels 42, 43.

B. Other interesting examples...presumably not Aristotelian in origin: 63, 92 (Stoicism), 136

III. Freedom: Compatibilism vs. Indeterminism.  Is the movement of the will towards some object (choice) inevitable?  Condemnation wants to say, "no" there are genuinely open options.

A. the stars: 154,156

B. irresistible desire: 158-160, 163.  This last really does sound like what Aquinas says.

C. punishment: 165 (determinists and compatibilists have a problem with retribution, since you couldn't really do otherwise).

IV. The Dilemma of Foreknowledge and Freedom (Furture contingents)

A. The Problem:  If future choices are really free, how can they be foreknown by God?  That is, if God knows today what I'm going to do tomorrow, then, come tomorrow, I cannot do otherwise than God foreknew that I would do.   

---One way to solve a dilemma is to give up on one side or the other, however in this case --

1. It's really important to say that God knows the future. (Divine Sovereignty, Problem of Evil)

2. It's really important to say that human beings have genuine freedom. (Moral Responsibility, Free Will Defense)

B. Here's what we CAN'T say (#15).  God cannot know future contingents because...

(1 and 2 deny divine foreknowledge)

1. There's nothing there to be known. 

    a. Aristotle's idea was that propositions about the future don't have a truth value in the present. The future is radically open. (Contemporary Open Theism)

    b. We're not denying divine omniscience. God knows all there is to know, it's just that there is no future to know.

2. Contingent things are singular and God, since He doesn't begin with sense knowledge, does not know singulars.

(3 and 4 deny very robust human freedom.)

3. God's knowledge is the cause of the things foreknown.

--- Now, there is reason to say this, based on  traditional view of God as perfectly simple and pure actuality---

a. God's knowledge is causal.  God is perfectly simple and His knowledge is identical with His power.

b. God is pure actuality. No potential.  How can contingent things have an effect on God? How can we teach God something?

-- But if we say it, we are stuck with the conclusion that God is the ultimate source of "sin", whatever "sin" can mean on such an analysis --

4. Foreknowledge does not cause the future event, but for something to be foreknown its causes must be known. Determinism.

C. A workable solution (at least in th opinion of your professor) --- Anselm of Canterbury 1033-1109 --- Perhaps unfamiliar to 13th century philosophers?

1. isotemporal understanding of time.  God knows the future because He is eternal, outside of time.  He "sees" all of time, (what is to us) past, present, and future, as immediately "present."  He knows (from my perspective) today what I will do tomorrow because He sees me doing it.  Since it's my choice that causes God's knowledge, a choice is not determined and originates with me. It is a libertarian free choice, even though God knows it's going to be made "before" (from my perspective) I make it.

2. Note that this also solves the Immutable Creator causing and interacting with a changing universe. (Maimonides)

3. Does mean we have to bit the bullet on the thought that we can have some effect on God.

Duns Scotus 1265-1308

I.  The original dunce.  Franciscan, critical of Aquinas.  Usually seen as a continuator of the Augustinian tradition, though with plenty of Aristotelian influence and some major differences, e.g. no divine illumination.  Knowledge starts with the senses.  All we have time for are: The proof for God, univocity of language about God, universals, and voluntarism.

II. The proof for God  

A. Introduction

1. We could use a causal argument, like Avicenna's and Aquinas' Second Way,  but it's not absolutely certain because ...

2. it starts from a premise which is contingent..."Something exists which is caused"...

3. senses gave us the premise from observation, but senses could be deceptive, so we want to prove God without using merely contingent premises.

B The Proof

Step 1.  First need to prove that a first efficient cause CAN exist per se.  (Per se means absolutely independently.) 

--I.e. it is POSSIBLE for there to be a "first causally effective being" -- one which can cause others, but which cannot itself be caused. --

1. Some being C can be caused.  (C = a caused being)

    a. Just saying it's possible, not that it is the case.  

        1. "Possible" here I think means, not self-contradictory.

        2. But that means that this premise is a necessary truth.  

    b. We do not see that it is true by observation of contingent things, but merely by considering the concept of being.  

    c. So the conclusion of the argument is going to be a necessary truth about what is POSSIBLE, not what is actual. 

2. If C exists, C must be caused by some other being D. (Can't be caused by nothing, or by only other option.)

3. D is either caused or not.

4. If it's caused then it must be caused by something else.

5. Can't go to infinity in caused causes.

6. Therefore a first  efficient cause CAN exist. (Again, he's just saying that it's possible.)

B. Step 2.


1. A
2. -B>-A
therefore B.

Let X =A first efficient cause.

1. X can exist (It is certainly possible that such a being exists. That's what step 1 showed.)

2. --(X does in fact exist) > --(X can exist)
(It can't cine from nothing, it can't bring itself into being, and it can't be brought into being by something else.)

3. Q.E.D. X does in fact exist (Modus tollens, negating the consequent)

III. Naming God: Can we conceive of God Himself.  Yes...univocally!

A. Are our terms only negative?  Good = not bad. (567)

1. Know what the negation means by knowing the affirmation. (indivisible)

2.  If we insist that we're using pure negation, negation with no affirmative meaning, then terms would apply equally to "nothing" as to God.  We would end up describing "nothing." 

3.  Must be some positive content.  Maimonides seemed to want to say that we could say that God existed, we just couldn't say what He is.  Scotus goes, unless you have some concept of what it is you can't say that it is.

B. We do have terms that we can use positively and univocally of God, as the history of philosophy shows. (568) E. g. being.

1. Many philosophers have hypothesized a "first principle"... the absolute from which all else comes into being....and were certain that it had being. (Being certain means they were right.)  E.g. Heraclitus and FIRE.  But they wrongly attributed infinity, uncreatedness, and being first to this being, when in fact their proposed first principle was finite, created, and not first.

2.  What it shows is that we have a concept of being, more general than our concepts of finite or infinite being, and capable of applying to both.

C. Wouldn't analogy do the job?  dog (living) > God (Living) The life in the dog is related to, but still different from the Life in God. No.  Either I can move beyond creatures to say something accurate about God, or I can't. (567)

1.  I get my concepts from sense data from creatures (agrees with Aquinas there).  I understand "living" from observing creatures. Data in the phantasm, then the active intellect goes to work on the passive.

2.  If all I can understand is "life" as it appears in creatures, then I cannot move beyond that. (569) If to me "life" means the way creatures live, then I shouldn't apply it to God.  I can't move beyond creatures.

D. How do I get the concepts I use for God? (569)

1. It is true that they come from creatures.  I get my concept of e.g. wisdom from observing wise people.

2. But wisdom itself is not necessarily imperfect.  On the most general level wisdom is just wisdom. It could be perfect or imperfect, finite or infinite.  We can get the general concept (transcending these further divisions) from the creature and recognize that in creatures it's limited and in God it's unlimited.  But on that most general level we are using the term univocally.


IV. Universals (Reputation for extreme realism) Concern is "specific natures" e.g. horseness

-- Importance of the question. Science talks in universals. What's it talking about? Does science discover reality or invent it? --

A. "Horseness" is just "horseness".  Neither one nor many.  There is a sufficiently general nature that transcends its various modes of existence, e.g. in the various horses, in the human mind...

B. How is "horseness" in the horses?  (Aquinas would have said each horse has its own nature, i.e. horseness  individuated by matter.)

1. It is one in all the different with less than numerical unity. (584) ( Numerical unity means to be one discretely existing object.  It's not that.  Just as the color of the desk and the desk are diverse, but with less than numerical diversity.) It's the sort of one that a bunch of different individuals can have. So if there are only 10 horses, but there is also the horseness in the horses, there are not eleven objects, there are the ten horses. If there's only one dodo, there aren't two objects, the dodo and the dodoness.

Here's how...

2. The specific nature can exist as a "universal" in the mind, and it can exist in individual objects. But in itself, and outside the mind, it possess both commonness and singularity. (584)

3. Commonness belongs to it of itself. (As a nature it is what is common to all the members of the species.)

    a. Commonness is primary.  More fundamental. It follows that...

    b. What needs to be explained, then, is (586)

        1. how "horseness" can be a "universal" in the mind, and then we tell the epistemic story involving the active intellect.

        2. and how "horseness" can be the horseness of an individual horse.

4. To become singular it must have something added on. Horsenss + X = the individual horse.

a. not matter as pure potency...formless matter is itself indistinct and indeterminate so it could not serve to make horseness into this horse.

b. not some quantity of matter...quantity is an accident (non-essential property) of an object. It exists in dependence on the object. So it can't be a fundamental cause of the individual object.

c. There must be a "thisness", Haecceitas

V.  Freedom

A. Definition (Human and divine)

1. There is no other cause of the will's choice than the will itself.

2.  You could do other than you did.

3.  There are real contingencies.  Things really could have been otherwise.

B. God's Freedom

1. Augustine (for basis of comparison): 

a. God is perfect goodness. 

b. He creates out of love.  

c. He "must" create, and He "must" create the best possible world...the principle of plenitude.  

d. God's will flows from His intellect in that He knows the best and creates it. 

e. But of course He's free in that He is doing exactly what He wants to be doing! Nothing outside of Himself causes or limits His act of will.

2. Scotus says, no to that Augustinian approach.  

a. Seems to hold that if God created "necessarily" then everything would happen necessarily

b. This was a conclusion some of the Moslems seemed to accept. (Avicenna and Averroes)

c. Possibly an eye to the Condemnation of 1277 -- anti-compatibilist.

3. For Scotus Divine Freedom means...

a. God could have made a different world or no world at all.

b. Created beings are truly contingent.  They really might not have existed.

c. Not to say that creation is irrational.  God's intellect plays a central role -- it presents His will with the various possibilities and the will chooses.  

d. But there is no answer to the question, "Why did God make things this way?"

C. Human Morality.  Is Scotus a voluntarist.  (X is right because God commands it.  Things could have been otherwise.  God could have commanded not-X.)

1. Advantage of voluntarism: If God is absolutely supreme there must be no constraints on His will.  His will is at the very top, unconstrained even by His intellect.

2. Scotus' Divided Conclusion

a. Some moral laws are necessary and unalterable...those dealing directly with our response to the necessary being.  First two commandments; no other gods, and don't take the Lord's name in vain. 

b. The rest aren't really necessary.  God could set them aside.  (I take it he's saying more than just that there might be the hard case where moral rules conflict and you can disobey one to conform to a more important one.  Any normal person would say that.)

    1. His question (p.602)Take two situations which are exactly the same in all the particulars, the only difference being that God permits one and forbids the other.

    2. Answers.  a. God has done it, e.g. with Abraham and Isaac.  b. If it were simply a necessary truth that "killing the innocent is evil" then God would know it, and would have to will it.  I.e. His will would be constrained by something other than itself.

3. Two big problems with volutarisim: (Just standardly raised) 

a. Seems to make moral order arbitrary.

b. The believer wants to say that "God is good" and mean something by it.  But if (almost)any behavior could be "good" , e.g. sadism, cruelty..., then the term ceases to have positive content.  We don't mean anything when we say, "God is good" beyond, "God is like what God commands".

Ockham 1280-1349 (Black Death)

I. Ockham's razor or the principle of parsimony

II. (Logic) Individuals, freedom, divine omnipotence.  You could call him the first of the great British Empiricists.  Fideism.  Scepticism about the power of human reason. He himself was certainly a believer.  In fact he was a Franciscan...but hard not to see his work as destructive of the great medieval synthesis of faith and reason.

III. Nominalism (conceptualism)

A. There are no universals, or any universal "thing", outside of words and concepts.  To be is to be an individual.

B. If the universal, eg. dogness, actually existed it would have to be one thing.  (None of this "less than numerical unity" business!)(H p.617)

--Universal "thing", nature or form, can't possibly exist --

1. one thing can't be "in" many things.
2. this would deny creation ex nihilo .
3. an individual can be annihilated without other members of the species being affected.

C. Comparisons

1. Obviously denying Scotus' brand of extreme realism.

2. Denying Aquinas' moderate realism, as well.

a. Aquins says that there is no one nature per se in the several individuals that they share. The form in the creature is individuated through matter. The form can only be universal when it is abstracted by the mind...none of the this sounds all that realist, but...

b. Aquinas also says that 1.) There is a unified nature in the thing, and 2.) (although we don't need to discuss this in our explanation of universals, it is the case that) the form in the thing reflects a unified Form, an Idea in the Mind of God, a Divine Exemplar. ( Even Abelard, an earlier conceptualist, believed in divine exemplars!)

3. Ockham denies that there are divine exemplars!  No Divine Idea of Man or horse or whatever.  All of this sort of thing is an unfortunate carry over from pagan platonism and we ought to get rid of it.  God has ideas, of course.  They're of individuals.  That's all there is!

D. So why do we have these universal terms and concepts?  Note that for Ockham the question is not "How does the nature become individuated?", but "Why are the individuals given a common name?" Opposite of Scotus. p. 624.

1. They aren't just arbitrary

2. We recognize similarities between individuals.  Plato and Socrates are both animals and they're both rational, so we give them the name "human."

3. No "human nature" that we all share, which is common to us and becomes individualized somehow.

4. All things are singular individuals which we can group together according to their similarities and name.  The name is a shorthand for "a thing with these properties."

5. This is a natural process...otherwise we seem to be saying it is arbitrary or a matter of convenience or some such thing, in which case we completely undermine the objectivity of scientific claims.

    a. It is true that science is about propositions. However...

    b. The propositions contain terms that, while they refer only to individuals (that's all there is) are nonetheless predicable of many, in that they pick out the similar properties.

6. A problem: Why pick out these properties rather than those as "essential" or "definitive"?

IV. Empiricism and causation

A. Nominalism leads to (radical) empiricism.  The only way to know an individual is through contact with it.  You can't argue from its having a certain nature to its having to behave in a certain way.

B. Causation (Algazali/Hume)

1. You can't figure out from the nature of a thing what effects it must produce or what causes it requires.

2. You can only learn about causes and effects from actually observing individuals in action.

3.  And even still you can't have definitive proof about causes in this world. (W p.241)

V. Can't prove God (very reminiscent of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)

Existence of God is not self-evident (Augustinian approach), nor can you prove God from creatures (Aristotelian approach).

A. We know causal connections by observing them.  You never observed the making of even one world.

B. Can't argue (eg. Aquinas' second way) that there must be a first efficient cause.  Maybe the whole cause of you is your parents, their parents etc.  

C. Maybe a proof for a first "conserver".  Contingent things need something to keep them in being right now.  Can't be an infinite series because a present infinity is impossible...but this doesn't show that this ultimate conserver is God because we don't know that there can only be one.  There's at least one, but there could be not God...maybe there are other worlds with other conserving beings.

VI. Freedom and morality

A. Libertarian. Man is radically free.  We can make genuine choices.

B. Our only obligation, source of all moral law, is just to obey God.  (Can't adopt natural law ethics)

C. God is radically free. "Limited" only by laws of logic. (Sounds like Alghazali)

1. Could He have willed other than He willed?  Yes.

2. Could the moral order be other than it is?  Yes. Voluntarism.  

--More radical than Scotus.

3. He really means this.  Not only could God decide that rape and pillage and murder are fine.  He could command that we should hate Him...and if He commanded it, that's what we should do!

VII. The destructor...

Basic medieval premises which drive the synthesis between faith and reason, Greek philosophy and biblical revelation...

Reason can really tell us something.  The universe is intelligible.  (Not completely, of course, but...)

Cosmos is an ordered and beautiful and valuable system.

The individual has a comprehensible form or structure through which it fits into the whole.

Human nature and place for human beings.

Prove God and His nature.

Ockham: No.  You can't prove God.  Everything is arbitrary.

Of course it's not like the "traditional" view suddenly blinked out.  It didn't at all.  It can look like Ockham "put an end to" the middle ages because he is the forerunner of philosophers whom twentieth century Anglophone philosophers have seen as the good guys of modern philosophy.

The Twentieth Century: empiricism, scepticism. (Positivism) You can't talk meaningfully about God, souls, morality.  Contempt for medieval philosophy.  General texts.  Universities sans medieval.  The times they are a-changin'.  20th century positivism is dead.  People are rethinking the modern project as it has been defined since Descartes.  Free for all...traditional approach a contender.  You are making the history of philosophy.  Be careful!

 Guide Study
Condemnation of 1277, Scotus, and Ockham

Note: I will feel free to ask you to explain and develop these points, and I may ask for comparisons.

The Condemnation of 1277

       -Question #15.  God's knowledge of future contingents.  Why does the believer want to say that God does indeed know future contingents?  Why does it seem that if God knows that you will do x tomorrow, your doing x is necessary, not contingent.  How does Anselm solve the problem?      What are the four things you can't say, according to the Condemnation of 1277?  Explain what the point of each is and why it is unacceptable.

    - Proposed possible "Anselmian" solution to dilemma of freedom and foreknowledge: Four-dimensionalism and how God knows what you will choose         tomorrow.

Duns Scotus

How does Scotus show that at least some of our language must apply to God univocally? (Critique of pure negation, and analogy). How do we get our concepts of God?

Explain Scotus' necessary demonstration of God's existence. (Give the two-step proof.  Explain each premise. Explain the form of the proof...modus tollens.)

Extreme realism.  How is horseness in the horses?  How does it become individuated? (Specific nature is both common and singular etc.)

According to Scotus, could God will other than He does?  What is the relationship between the divine will and intellect in the act of creation?

Could God permit tomorrow what He prohibits today (i.e. Can God change the laws of morality)?  Why does Scotus want to say this? What two exceptions does he make to the claim that God can change the moral order.  What are a couple of possible problems with saying this?


Explain Ockham's view of universals (including his critique of realism, 3 arguments).  Why do we call cats, cats?  What is his view of human and divine knowledge with respect to universals?  Why does nominalism seem to lead to skepticism?  How does Ockham try to avoid extreme skepticism?

Explain Ockham's critique of the notion of necessary causal relations.

According to Ockham, why can't you prove the existence of God?  What can you prove in this connection?

Explain Ockham's voluntarism. (Be sure to note the difference between Scotus and Ockham). 

PHIL 312           Late Medieval Philosophy               PAPER #4


Instructions and topics for 2-3 page paper.  Paper is due to me electronically (or you can drop it off in my mailbox) on or before May 19 if you want to get it back from me in time to rewrite for an ultimate deadline of 5/24 for rewrites. If you plan to just hand in one draft, then the deadline is May 22.  Failure to comply will result in a 0 grade for this paper, unless you have spoken to me and received an extension.

Paper must be no more than three pages of double-spaced text, with 12-pt font, and one inch margins. If you choose to consult outside sources – the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, for example – you may do so. If you do this, be sure to include end notes for these sources on a separate page. I don’t care what form the end notes take, but they must include enough information that I can QUICKLY AND EASILY look up the source. So, for example, if you cite a book, you must include page numbers. I am just as happy if you do NOT consult outside sources, but it’s up to you.

Three pages is very short, so you will need to write in a clear and well-organized fashion. Give your paper an informative title, and state at the beginning what it is you are going to claim or argue. All of the topics involve attacking or defending some claim, so you will need to state your reason(s) for your conclusion(s) succinctly.  

Some hints. You might want to start by not worrying about how concise you have to be. Write what feels comfortable and then go back and edit to get it down to size.  If you are new to philosophy, read your paper out loud slowly and ask if what you’re saying makes sense. You are being asked to agree or disagree with a claim, and in philosophy it is okay to write in the first person (“I think…”). You must give reasons for your views.  There are all kinds of “reasons” in philosophy. These include but are not limited to empirical data including the findings of science and ordinary experience, common intuitions, conceptual analysis (e.g. when Alghazali asks what our concepts of "cause" and "effect" entail), whether or not claims internal to a view are consistent with one another, whether or not a claim entails an absurdity, whether or not a claim can be developed coherently. Concrete examples are often useful.  And in philosophy it is perfectly okay to say, “I assume that X…” and then go from there to make your argument. (The paper can't be all assumptions!).  If you have questions about how to proceed, feel free to ask!

Once I have read and commented on your paper, I will give you a provisional grade on it. You can revise the paper in light of my comments if you choose to do so. Assuming that the paper is significantly improved, I'll give you a final grade which will be higher than the provisional grade.





Topics (Choose only one)

1. Pick a thesis condemned in the Condemnation of 1277 and explain why it ought or ought not to be believed.

2. Does Scotus’ proof for the existence of a first cause work? (If you think it DOES don’t just repeat it. Raise and answer some possible problem with it.)

3. Scotus invokes “thisness” to explain how the nature becomes individuated in the singular thing. Is this a good move or not?

4. Pick and evaluate some aspect of Ockham’s nominalism as it was explained in class. For example, you could look at one of his arguments for nominalism or at his explanation for how we come to understand the universal term or how science can be in some sense “about” the real world.